GOSPEL LESSON Mark 10:32-45
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Job 38:1-7, 34-41
MESSAGE: “The Answer Is in the Questions”
Two weeks ago I told you that I have a special fondness in my heart for the Book of Job, and part of the reason for that is because it tells us from the opening chapter that not all of the bad stuff that happens to us in life is our fault. Some of our troubles we may bring upon ourselves when we make poor choices, but Job’s troubles came upon him precisely because he was a good and upright man. His virtue and integrity were precisely what attracted God’s attention made him the subject of a debate between God and Satan.
For lack of time we are skipping over the arguments and pleas of Job’s so-called friends, who attempt to convince him that he must indeed have done something wrong to earn his suffering, that he should just grin and bear it, and that if he would just pray hard enough and believe strongly enough all his troubles would disappear. The reader knows what the “friends” don’t – that Job’s troubles are the result of Satan attempting to prove to God that if Job suffers enough, he will eventually curse God and die. God takes the wager and bets that no matter what – Job will not ever curse God. The only restriction is that Satan is not permitted to kill the man.
A second reason I love the book of Job is because it tells me that when we are hurting, when we are pushed to the breaking point, when we face troubles that seem greater than we can bear, we can argue with and yell at God. We don’t need to fear God’s wrath because we question. God is big enough to handle our outbursts. Job isn’t the patient one here. God is.
After all of the prattling of his friends, and Job’s ranting at God, finally the narrative tells us in the first verse of chapter 38, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”
Job has been complaining bitterly of God’s silence. Is there anyone here who has not sought answers from God only to find themselves confronted by deafening silence?
Why, God? Why did I have to have cancer?
Why, God? Why is my child sick? And what are you going to do about it? And when?
Why, God? Did my spouse lose his job? Betray me?
Why, God? Why do we have such a bad economy and my brother lose his job?
What, God? Is there really global warming? What can I do about it? What are you, God, going to do about it?
When, God? When will I feel better? When will my grief begin to pass?
Your Word tells me to bring everything to you in prayer. I do that, and I still don’t get any satisfaction. Why, God? Why don’t you answer me.
The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. Three things jump out of those nine simple words. The Lord spoke to Job – God does answer; God does speak to us. Perhaps not when and where and how we would like. But God does speak. Remember Jesus told the story of the man who had gone to bed with his family and a neighbor came knocking at his door? All settled in for the night, the householder is not inclined to get up and open the door, but because the neighbor continued to knock and knock and knock – eventually the householder drags himself out of bed and answers. Jesus told that story not at all to characterize God as an absent, gone-to-bed, selfish householder. But we understand that if a man will eventually get up and answer the knock, how much more will God answer when we call upon him.
The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. It is in the storms of life that we are most open to hearing God’s voice. I suspect that God speaks to us more often than most of us realize. When things are going well, we are healthy, our family and friends are all healthy, our finances, employment and social life are all good, it seems to be human nature to turn off our listening ears. It is in the storms of life, the anticipation or reception of a scary diagnosis, the dreaded financial hard times, the broken relationship, the depths of depression, anxiety, loss and fear that we fine tune our hearing and listen for God.
You want to see the church grow? Look around you at work, family and social gatherings, any place where there are people, and see those who are hurting. Those who focus on the financial needs of any church would love for you to bring happy, healthy, financially blessed people into our midst. Those folks are, of course, welcome. But the people who are in trouble, those who are dealing with a major illness –theirs or that of a loved one, those who are lonely, grieving and struggling in the storms of life – those are the people who long to hear God speak.
The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. God’s majesty, power and mystery are found in the storm – some translations say “whirlwind.”
The storm is a common mode of revelation in the ancient
Near East and it is meant to invoke terror! “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (v. 2). It takes a secular age like ours to be blasé about the voice of God - to think of an audience with God as some unambiguously good thing.
The author of Job suggests that when God speaks, you had better run for cover. Job had demanded answers, God comes with questions. “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you!” (v. 3). With a kind of repetitive excess, the questions come with machine-gun rapidity. Where were you when? Can you? Do you know? Who but me has? In chapters 38 and 39 (seventy verses), we are regaled with a poetic description of God’s works, covering creation, the earth, the heavens, the natural world, the animal world, even the mythical or the primordial. God hammers away at the fact that Job is just an infinitesimal part of an awesome creation.
The sum of it is, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond” (40:2). Job is stunned. The “once great” Job answers, “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). Then, as if to put the final nails in the coffin, God goes on for two more chapters!
Does Job get an answer? To the questions that plague us, the questions of justice, of fairness, of proper retribution, the answer is probably, “No.” Children still drown, spouses succumb to cancer, friends are hit by drunk drivers. Whether on the grand scale of a tsunami or in the anonymous death of an indigent, there is little clarity. We may be impressed by God’s performance, but not satisfied.
So did Job get an answer? Yes he did. The answer is in the questions.
Jack Canfield says that it’s not what other people say that makes us feel bad. It’s what we say to ourselves when they get done talking. Any of us who have zero tendencies to be super-responsible will look at this and nod and say, of course that’s God’s job. Those of us who at some level feel overly responsible for things, even things over which we have no control, will look at this and bristle as we are reminded that God is God and we are not.
It may not have been the answer Job was looking for, or the answer we are looking for. But the answer to our questions about the sovereignty, justice and power of God is that God is God and we are not. The support for that answer is found in the questions:
4 ”Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? 5 Who marked off its dimensions?
34 ”Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens 38 when the dust becomes hard?
God often has a different plan than earthlings. Does things in a different way. In the gospel for today (Mark 10:35-45), this is what the disciples did not understand. They wanted the best seats in the house, but what they got was the cup of suffering. They wanted to be on the right and left, but what they got was the baptism unto death. This may not be our way, but it is God’s way. Jesus gives a counter-vision to the ethos of his day and of ours. Mark knew, from his encounter with Rome, that for an empire, the values are force, intimidation, and a network of patronage. For the kingdom of God, the values are suffering, submission, and servanthood. (spell check: servanthood is “not in dictionary” !!)
This doesn’t sell well in today’s society and culture. But today’s society and culture are not God. God is God.
Only when we reach the end of the story, can we see the full meaning; only through the cross and empty tomb are things fully redeemed. The God who speaks from the whirlwind is also the God who hangs on a cross for us. The God who created the universe, Leviathan and all, is the God who has redeemed and will restore it. The God who was hidden in deep darkness will be revealed to us in glory.
Thanks be to God who is God.